'Have you heard anything from Andy C?' Hidden name in government emails about Irving Oil revealed

·4 min read
Irving Oil executive Andy Carson, right, at a legislature committee hearing into industrial property tax issues in 2019.   (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)
Irving Oil executive Andy Carson, right, at a legislature committee hearing into industrial property tax issues in 2019. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)

The New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development is acknowledging it hid the name "Andy C" in correspondence it released to CBC News about the department's involvement in an Irving Oil application in front of the Energy and Utilities Board, although it is not clear why

"Andy C" appears to be a reference to Andy Carson, a senior executive with Irving Oil.

The name was redacted in an email chain between department officials who were working on a government effort last winter to support Irving Oil Ltd.'s attempt to win higher petroleum margins from the EUB.

"Have you heard anything from Andy C?" read the original email between civil servants, which was released to the CBC in February with the last five letters blanked out.

GNB
GNB

However, late last week the full sentence was provided following a CBC News complaint to the New Brunswick ombud's office about a number of redactions in material supplied by the department.

The full complaint has not been resolved, but in a letter last Friday the department's deputy minister Tom MacFarlane wrote to disclose that one of the redactions involved blanking out the name "Andy C."

"The Department has reviewed the previously withheld records and engaged in discussion with the Office of the Ombud," wrote MacFarlane. "Please find enclosed a revised record."

CBC's request for information from the department centred on a Jan. 5 application by Irving Oil to the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board to raise petroleum wholesale margins in New Brunswick by amounts that, if awarded, would have cost consumers about $1 million a week in increased fuel costs.

Shortly after the increase was applied for, a letter over the signature of Mike Holland, the minister of natural resources and energy development, was sent to the EUB in support of Irving Oil's request for an "expedited" review of its application.

Holland was criticized by a number of parties for contacting the independent board, but records obtained by CBC News following a right to information request showed he had little to do with writing the letter or the decision to send it.

It was produced by a team of civil servants working for days on strategies on how the government might assist Irving Oil and was submitted directly to Premier Blaine Higgs for approval.

The "Andy C" email was written late in the day Dec. 29 by assistant deputy minister Bill Breckenridge to department director Heather Quinn as senior officials scrambled to prepare for a briefing requested by Higgs on Irving Oil's plans to ask for fuel price increases a week later.

MacFarlane, the deputy minister, was notified at 7 p.m. on the 29th of the premier's desire for an update and, despite the hour and the holidays, immediately sent instructions to Breckenridge to find details.

Jacques Poitras/CBC
Jacques Poitras/CBC

"Can someone confirm with IOL [Irving Oil Ltd.] or EUB if the request has been made and if not when it is expected," wrote MacFarlane.

At 8:40 in the evening, Breckenridge did the same to Heather Quinn.

"I hope you had a nice Christmas," read his note "And I hate to bother you but as per the following: have you heard anything from Andy C?"

No one in the Department of Natural Resources connected to those emails was available Friday to confirm if Andy C is a reference to Irving Oil executive Andy Carson, what he was being consulted about, or why the department tried to keep the name secret.

Carson is Irving Oil's director of energy transition and a former head of the company's public affairs division.

Devaan Ingraham/Reuters
Devaan Ingraham/Reuters

If the redaction was meant to dispel any impression the department was coordinating with Irving Oil about its desire for price increases, Higgs has already acknowledged the two bodies were in contact.

In a March interview he said there had been discussions with the company about its troubles and what it wanted prior to the application being made in January.

"I was aware of what they were seeking to do," Higgs told CBC News.

"They would have been presenting their case to cabinet, some members, not necessarily all members."

Initially, the Department of Natural Resources claimed it was not required to disclose "Andy C" under exceptions allowed if doing so would be "harmful to a third party's business or financial interests." However, that argument has been abandoned.

Carson did not respond to an email asking if he knows whether the reference in the government correspondence is to him.

Irving Oil eventually abandoned its application for higher wholesale prices in March.

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